Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How's that Jim Greer appointment working out for you now, Charlie?

As I posted last week, Charlie Crist has been sued over contributions that he accepted for his Senate campaign while he was a Republican, but refused to refund after jumping ship to run as an independent.  I questioned whether inducing someone to donate money to a campaign by saying you were a Republican while you were considering or had already decided to abandon the party could constitute fraud.

I'd encourage you go to back and read my post, and take note of the comment by Wade Vose with further legal discussion of how to prove fraud:
I think it comes down to a very simple question...[a]t the time Crist elicited the contributions in question, did he make a "misrepresentation of material fact"?
...I would argue that the material fact was whether Crist, as a longtime Republican Attorney General and Governor, would run in the Republican Primary through the full primary process, and abide by the result of that primary. If he was contemplating running outside of the Republican Party process as early as March, as the Greer/Johnson Tapes seem to indicate, then it appears that this was a misrepresentation of material fact.
The "Greer/Johnson Tapes" to which Wade refers are a recorded telephone call between ousted RPOF chairman Jim Greer and Delmar Johnson that took place on March 25, 2010.  

You can listen to the call here.  Greer and Johnson discuss in detail twice (once about halfway through the call, and once near the end) about the fact that Crist was considering running as an independent.

Only three days after this phone call, on March 28, Crist appeared on FoxNews Sunday, along with Marco Rubio, to be interviewed by Chris Wallace.  Here's a partial transcript of some of Crist's remarks from that interview (I had trouble locating a good quality video of the complete interview, if anyone has a link, please post in the comments):
CHRIS WALLACE: Here is your chance to dispel all the rumors. Are you willing to pledge right here, right now that you will run in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and not run as an independent?

CHARLIE CRIST: I'm running as a Republican in November.

WALLACE: Are you ruling out that you will file as an independent by the April 30th deadline?

CRIST: That's right. That's right. I'm running as a Republican.

WALLACE: You will run, not for governor, you'll run for Senate and you will run as a — in the Republican primary?

CRIST: Chris, I'm running for the United States Senate. I know that our country needs help. I'm running as a Republican.
WALLACE: Will you support the winner of the GOP primary whether it's you or Marco Rubio?
CRIST: Of course I will. Of course I will.

OK, so what does all this mean for the lawsuit?  Well, we've got Crist pinky-swearing on national television on March 28th that he really, really, really was a Republican, and would never-ever-ever do anything to hurt the Grand Old Party, and certainly would abide by the choice of the voters and support the winner of the Republican primary...even though just days before he had been talking with his most trusted henchmen about how to accomplish the switch to running as an independent. 

I think Crist's free speech rights would make it enormously difficult to hold him legally liable for switching positions on specific issues, as disappointing (if not down right despicable) that may have been.  How many times have we seen politicians switch positions and claim they "just changed their minds" or "gained a new perspective?"  We all know the switch more likely stems from a desire to improve the politician's polling numbers, and Crist is definitely the poster boy for shameless poll worship, but honestly, I wouldn't want to see our judicial system used in this manner.  Do we really want to say that an elected official has to permanently decide their position on every issue the first time they run for office?  Punitive lawsuits are not a good way to handle this; flip-flopping politicians are much better attacked with blogs and ballots!  (See, e.g., John Kerry, 2004).

However, Crist's very earnest, very public, and very repetitive promises that he was running as a Republican and would honor the results of the Republican primary had much wider implications than just his opinion on any single issue, like abortion.  Crist's decision about under what party his name should appear on the ballot is much more fundamental.  I would argue that every donation Crist solicited after late March could potentially be categorized as induced by fraud, especially if Crist draped himself in Republican insignia or made statements reaffirming his pledges to stay loyal to the GOP at specific fundraiser events.

What do you think?  Does knowing that Crist was actively plotting how to run as an independent back in March make you more likely to think that he had a fraudulent intent?  How severe does a misrepresentation need to be to make a political contribution fraudulently obtained?

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